Gov. Deval Patrick’s decision to support a senator’s appointment to a long-dormant $175,000 job belies his call for fiscal and patronage reform. It also fits a pattern during his time in office.
When Patrick first became governor in 2007, he staffed his office with political outsiders to make good on his campaign pledge to bring a fresh perspective to Beacon Hill. After his administration floundered amid controversies over his pricey office redecoration and Cadillac car lease, however, Patrick replaced Chief of Staff Joan Wallace-Benjamin and Communications Director Nancy Fernandez Mills with veteran State House insiders Doug Rubin and Joe Landolfi.
Patrick also drew the ire of State House insiders by telling members not to expect patronage appointments from him. Yet he then hired former state Sen. Cheryl Jacques — a donor who helped with campaign outreach to the gay and lesbian community — for a judgeship at the Department of Industrial Accidents, despite no judicial experience.
More recently, the Democrat who railed against the “Big Dig culture” during his 2006 campaign reached back to the Big Dig to hire former Massachusetts Turnpike counsel James Aloisi to be the state’s new transportation secretary.
Now a Patrick-appointed majority on the Massachusetts Health and Educational Facilities Authority (HEFA) has voted to appoint state Sen. Marian Walsh as its assistant executive director. The job, which will pay Walsh nearly $100,000 more than she currently earns, has been vacant for 12 years.
The state is facing a $1 billion budget deficit and since September has operated under a “no net-new hires” policy, which is supposed to be lifted only for critical personnel.
“Given the fiscal crisis and revenue situation, and tax after tax being talked about, and an economy in freefall, to go pick somebody who doesn’t bring any unique qualifications to a job that has been vacant doesn’t make much sense to me,” state Rep. Bradley H. Jones Jr. of North Reading, the House Republican leader, said last Friday.
He added: “For a governor who seemed to do very well as a campaigner connecting to people, he’s come unplugged. People are now speculating that this means he’s not running for re-election.”
Patrick was on vacation in Jamaica last week, unavailable for comment and heightening suspicions about the timing of the announcement. Patrick’s staff rejected any suggestion he will not seek re-election next year, and they defended the appointment.
“The governor supports HEFA’s decision to hire Sen. Walsh,” said Patrick spokesman Landolfi. “And we feel that she is qualified and will be an asset to the agency.”
Landolfi refused to discuss the timing of the appointment, but he defended Walsh’s hiring despite the hiring freeze.
“They are not part of the executive branch; they’re an authority,” he said of HEFA.
Walsh’s lucrative appointment comes as the state faces not only the $1.1 billion budget deficit, but also the prospect of $3.5 billion in cuts for the coming budget year and the specter of a 19-cent gasoline tax increase that Patrick has proposed as a way of correcting a series of transportation problems.
Cuts in state aid to cities and towns have led to widespread law enforcement and educational layoffs. In New Bedford, 38 police officers and 38 firefighters are being laid off to cope with a $2.8 million cut in local aid.
Patrick pleaded for public support in the sensitive task of budget-cutting during his State of the State address in mid-January.
“Some think that cutting government is always good,” he told his audience. “But they see only abstractions. Behind every one of those budget line items, I see somebody’s best chance or only chance. And I will do my best to make the decisions I have to make with the impact of them clearly in mind.”
Walsh, 54, emerged as one of Patrick’s early political supporters and helped his outreach to female voters.
In February 2007, barely a month after taking office, Patrick appointed Walsh’s husband, retired District Judge Paul Buckley, to a $109,000-per-year job as commissioner of the Department of Industrial Accidents. Walsh herself also sought a District Court judgeship last year, after having previously sought Patrick’s backing to be executive director of HEFA.
That appointment fell apart in May when The Boston Globe published an e-mail in which a Walsh backer outlined a plan to oust the agency’s executive director and give Walsh the $225,000-per-year post.
Walsh will now serve as the director’s top deputy.